Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Birding Scotland Pt 2: White-tailed Eagles

After a few days on the Isle of Bute it was off to Skye to look for eagles. Within six hours we had had great views of White-tailed Eagles and less impressive views of Golden Eagle but by the end of the first two days we had a count of eight White-tailed and three Golden with a supporting raptor cast of Merlin, Peregrine and Buzzard. I couldn't manage any photos of the Golden Eagles but I did manage some shots of the White-tailed Eagles.

Adult female White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla - Skye

Adult female White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla - Skye

Adult female White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla - Skye
 We found that Portree was one of the most reliable sites for the White-tailed eagles. You can join a 2hr eagle cruise from the harbour or scan the bay from the town. Another reliable spot is Sligachen. Park by the A87 near the cafĂ© or campsite and scan the surrounding Cuillin Hills. A couple of days before we arrived there had been a report of eleven birds soaring in the thermals at Sligachen. We saw a couple of Golden Eagles here too. We also saw both Golden and White-tailed soaring at Macleod's Tables (Mountains!) in the north west of Skye.
Adult  White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla - beetling off with a freshly caught fish.

Adult female White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla - Skye

Adult female White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla - Skye
Travelling over to Cairngorm next for loads and loads of grouse!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Birding in Scotland Pt 1

Spending a couple of weeks birding , sightseeing and general travelling-tourist stuff in Scotland. We began on the Isle of Bute, arriving on Tuesday 22nd April to grim was none too promising. A quick visit to the tourist information centre didn't improve my initial impressions! The 'Isle of e iscovery centre' looked jaded, faded and aged. Make an effort and fix the signage! Still half a dozen Black Guillemot on the crossing from Wemyss Bay were nice.

Isle of e iscovery centre!!
Top marks for the fantastic, Harry Potter type Victorian toilet next to the ferry port. The only thing missing in there was a 'Moaning Mytle'. I can't recommend this loo enough although you need to be careful taking photographs; best wait until it's empty!

Fantastic Victorian Loo on Bute
A couple of days birding, doing the sights (Mount Stewart is well worth the time and cost of a visit) and general bumbling about produced just over 70 species. Eiders in the bays were in mating mood and it was common to see over half a dozen males trying to impress a single female as in the shot below.Fighting, chasing and the Frankie Howard 'oooo...oooo' adding to the spectacle.
Drake Eiders courting a female

Meadow Pipit
Meadow Pipits and Oystercatchers were the most frequently encountered species along with Northern Wheatears and the ubiquitous Herring Gulls.


There were good numbers of Red-breasted Mergansers on the sea and Common Sandpipers had arrived in numbers and were frequent along most of the coast in suitable habitat.

Red-breasted Merganser off to Islay!
 Plenty of Rock Pipits but the biggest surprise was the number of singing Willow Warblers. They seemed to be just about everywhere unlike further south in England where it seems that they are in a state of decline. Why these birds fly over suitable breeding and feeding habitat that is not already held by other Willow Warblers I do not know!
Rock Pipit
 Off to Skye next for White-tailed and Golden Eagles ...and whisky from the Talisker distillery. The best whisky in the world from the best placed distillery in the world!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Eight Warblers!

Expecting migrant warblers as well as a few other long distance migrants to be arriving in some numbers, I took myself off for a walk around Netherfield Lagoons in south Notts this morning. I was not disappointed! There were three Little Ringed Plovers and three Common Terns present as well as over twenty Sand Martin and a handful of Swallows. But the warblers were the thing! There were eight species present although I only managed to see seven, failing to see or even hear a Grasshopper Warbler. I had been reliably informed that two birds had been reeling earlier in the day but they were silent when I was there. Obviously I'll have to get up a bit earlier.
The most common warbler this morning was Blackcap with at least eleven singing males recorded. Scientific name Sylvia atricapilla roughly meaning Black-haired Wood Sprite is pretty damned apt I'd say.
Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla
 Loads and loads of Chiffchaff singing. A few weeks back this site held a Siberian Chiffchaff but not today. Collybita is from the Latin for a money-changer! The chiff - chaff song sounding like coins clinking together. With Phylloscopus being Greek for leaf-seeker then we have a Leaf seeking money changer!! A bit of a stretch that one.
Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita
 Common Whitethroats had only just arrived and I heard and saw only three singing males. Sylvia being wood or sprite and communis meaning common then it makes sense if this is a common wood sprite. Only they aren't as common as they were.
Whitethroat Sylvia communis
 In fact there were more Lesser Whitethroats singing than Common Whitethroat and they had been present for a few days, arriving in Notts slightly earlier than Common Whitethroats. Curruca, would you credit, means unidentified small bird! So for me, from now on, there will be Little Brown Currucas!
Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca
 Sedge Warblers were present in small numbers, presumably they had been there a few days but there were no Reed Warblers there, leastways I didn't hear or see one and there had been no reports when I spoke to other birders. Schoenobaenus means reed-treader - how good's that! What with Acrocephalus translating as topmost or highest we have the Highest Reed-treader.
Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus
 There were at least five Cetti's warblers blasting out their explosive song but I didn't get much of a glimpse of any of them never mind a photo opportunity but the Willow Warblers were far more obliging. Trochilus is Greek for wren and so pertains to the old name of Willow Wren I presume, back in the days of confusion between Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Wood Warbler...not that anyone would confuse any of these birds today!!!
Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Two-barred Crossbills at Lynford Arboretum

At the beginning of the year I had a chance to see the 'controversial' Two-barred Crossbill at Lynford Arboretum in Norfolk but I was unable to get any photographs. I was back the other day and this time there were at least three birds present. There had been reports of five birds and I managed to get some reasonable shots of a couple of them. The first report of these crossbills, I think, was back in July 2013 when a female and three juveniles were seen and reports continued until 30th July. Later in the year at least one genuine adult male was present and this was presumed to be a new arrival. There were reports of Two-barred Crossbill running into October but then they ceased for a while. Towards the end of 2013 and into 2014 however, a new bird was being reported but instead of being generally accepted as a TBC it was widely regarded as being a Common Crossbill with heavy wing-bars or a hybrid Common/Two-barred. Reasons for it not being a genuine Two-barred include: weakish wing-bars that do not broaden; lack of white tips to the tertials; an apparently strong bill; orange rather than pinkish plumage; 'it just doesn't look right' and the fact that no one had heard it call - Two-barred Crossbill has a distinctive toy trumpet-like call that is weaker and higher pitched than that of the Common Crossbill. The fact that nobody had heard this bird call does not rule out Two-barred of course but it didn't help clinch it!
Male Two-barred Crossbill Loxia leucoptera - Lynford Arboretum April 2014
 These pictures, taken last week (April 2nd) at Lynford clearly show two different male Two-barred Crossbills, one of which is better marked than the other. All of the guide books state that one of the distinctive plumage features of a Two-barred is 'clear cut, broad white tips to the tertials' (Collin's Bird Guide). Neither of these birds show this characteristic yet I doubt if anyone would dispute their identification. So what do we learn here?
Male Two-barred Crossbill Loxia leucoptera - Lynford Arboretum April 2014. Clinging to tree trunk.

I was with Paul Stancliffe and in discussion we agreed that the white tertial tips had probably worn away - meaning that this feature is not a reliable clincher for a Two-barred (Though it would be if present!)  I posted Paul these pictures and he has added the following interesting and thorough thoughts on the plumage of these two birds:
'Having done a bit of reading, I have both of these birds as 1st winter Two-barred Crossbills. Clearly one is more adult like than the other.
Both of these birds have done a partial moult since fledgling and the more adult like bird has, it seems, replaced all, or certainly most, of its greater coverts, median coverts and lesser coverts. It has retained its juvenile tertials which are now worn and show very little trace of the white edges and tips. This bird also has a yellow rump which I think is also indicative of its age, but I can't find any reference to this and it might just be a feature that some adults show -I don't know.
The younger looking bird has only replaced the innermost greater coverts and retained the rest which are juvenile type. It has also not replaced all of the median coverts but it is difficult to see how many are new and how many are retained. From the photograph it looks like it has also retained most of the juvenile lesser coverts which look to have brownish centres and buff tips.
This Bird has also retained its juvenile tertials which are worn like the other bird.
Both birds, or at least the more adult type have white tips to the uppertail coverts which according to Svensson is diagnostic of Two-barred Crossbill. This feature is harder to see on the younger looking bird but does seem to be present.
The adult type bird seems to have moulted its tail but I can't be absolutely sure of this as there is no reference to what an adult tail should look like. However the tips look broad and rounded.
Hope this helps'

Male Two-barred Crossbill Loxia leucoptera - Lynford Arboretum April 2014 Bird 2.
 The bills on these birds did not look any weaker than the bills on the Common Crossbills. To me they look as strong and as large. There were Common Crossbills present and I couldn't detect any noticeable differences. Maybe with better views this feature would be noticeable but I would argue that it is a tough one to call in the field without good views and the chance to compare species.
If you carry out a search on the internet you can find lots of photographs of the controversial bird and one of the striking things is how different the hue of the bird is depending upon the light and the angle of view. In some it is a dark orange-red and in others it is a brighter pinkish colour.
Male Two-barred Crossbill Loxia leucoptera - Lynford Arboretum April 2014. Bird 1
 The only feature of that over-wintering bird that is now left is the weakness or not of the wing-bars. The decision to make is: Is this a Common Crossbill with very heavily marked wing-bars or a Two-barred with very weak wing-bars? (Or a hybrid!). Personally I go with the weakly marked Two-barred school of thought. It looked good for a first-winter male to me.
Male Two-barred Crossbill Loxia leucoptera - Lynford Arboretum April 2014. Bird 1
 On a different note these birds exhibited some interesting behaviour. They both preferred to cling onto the main trunk of the trees in which they were feeding in the manner of a Nuthatch Sitta europaea although they did not work the trunks in a Nuthatch like manner. Because of their colour and posture they reminded me just a little of Wallcreepers Tichodroma muraria (I wish!). Although we couldn't see what they feeding on we presumed feeding they were 'cus they were not gathering any material for any other purpose. One thing is for sure: they weren't extracting seeds.
Male Two-barred Crossbill Loxia leucoptera - Lynford Arboretum April 2014 Showing yellowish rump. Bird 1 clinging to the tree trunk and not really looking like a Wallcreeper at all!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Firecrest nest building.

BWP states that the nest of Firecrest Regulus ignicapillus is an 'almost spherical, elastic cup of moss, lichens and cobwebs, of three main layers; outer layer of cobwebs, moss and lichens, with cobwebs used to fasten twigs together, middle layer of moss, and lining mainly of feathers (up to 3 000) and hair.' Yesterday I managed to take a few photographs of a pair of Firecrests as they gathered material for their nest. The nest was about the size of a tennis-ball and was suspended in the twiggy end of a conifer branch. Both sexes were working hard at collecting material from the ground before flying straight back to the nest. The male can be told from the female by his brighter and bolder bronze shoulder patch (pretty much lacking on the female).

Firecrest Regulus ignicapillus collecting nest material
 These were fantastic birds to watch and we hung about for quite a while watching them do a circuit from nest to adjacent tree to another tree, then to bushes above the nesting material, onto the ground, collect a load and then back to the nest.
Firecrest Regulus ignicapillus collecting nest material
 I'm not certain what the birds were collecting but they were completely involved in the task and they did not seem much bothered by the photographers who were lined up taking pictures. Some of the material appeared to be the veins and fibrous material of rotted down leaves although looking at these pictures it looks to me like hair or fur. Perhaps there's somebody looking at these pictures who can identify this material. If so let me know by way of a comment.
Firecrest Regulus ignicapillus collecting nest material

Firecrest Regulus ignicapillus collecting nest material
 These two photographs are of the male and his bronze shoulder patch can be seen quite clearly. This was not something that I was aware of before but once this feature is known it looks quite easy to sex these birds if you get decent views.
When the birds had a beak full of this stuff they looked like they had massive, unkempt moustaches and beards... like most bloke birders in fact!
Firecrest Regulus ignicapillus collecting nest material
 Mad, hairy, male Firecrest.
Firecrest Regulus ignicapillus collecting nest material